Here we go, again. The chairs on the Titanic presidency of Donald Trump appear to be moving around.
Rex Tillerson, the former chief executive of ExxonMobil who became secretary of state in February, may be on his way out and CIA Director Mike Pompeo may be on his way in to lead American diplomacy.
Because of the complex crises around the globe, diplomacy matters more than ever right now. So it makes little sense to have a former Tea Party congressman who has spent less than a year at the nation’s the top intelligence official suddenly learn the ins-and-outs of The State Department.
Removing Tillerson, who has been at odds with Trump, is likely to sow more confusion. The State Department is already in disarray — marred by low morale, draconian budget cuts and deep staff reductions thanks to Trump’s decisions and Tillerson’s dismal reorganization plan. Now, foreign service officers, civil servants, and the few politically appointed high-ranking left at the State Department will have to penetrate another fortress on the State Department’s seventh floor, where the secretary of state works. If you thought secrecy already is a problem at the department, just wait until a CIA director moves in.
The big unknown is, of course, how our allies and enemies would react to a potential Tillerson exit. Pompeo’s background, statements and positions are likely to cause more unrest in foreign capitals. He already has offended most Muslims with his June 2013, post-Boston Marathon bombing statement that U.S. Islamic leaders are “potentially complicit” in terrorist acts when they don’t speak out against them.
Pompeo also has offered conflicting views in other hot spots around the world — North Korea, Iran and Russia — that have left many wondering about where he stands on issues. For example, he has suggested that maybe the CIA didn’t have evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, only to have the agency contradict him. On North Korea, he signaled a desire for regime change when speaking in July at an Aspen Security Forum, suggesting the leader of North Korea needed to be separated from that nation’s nuclear program.
Most worrisome about a Pompeo State Department is that his hawkish views on foreign policy would leave little room for dissent. Having another voice agreeing with Trump is not a check on power — it’s an invitation to abuse it.
Hawks are everywhere in the Trump administration, along with military figures and conservative politicians. How would Pompeo translate those credentials to a position that requires, well, diplomacy?
Let’s be frank. The Tea Party, which supported Pompeo when he represented Kansas in the House of Representatives, is not known for its diplomatic finesse nor a sense of independence, which is required to effectively carry out U.S. foreign policy.
Buckle your seatbelts.
Tara D. Sonenshine is a senior career coach at The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs and former U.S. under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. These views are her own.